Calls to prosecute pyre charity group

Calls were made last night for police chiefs to prosecute a race relations charity which lit the first ever British funeral pyre of modern times.

Calls were made last night for police chiefs to prosecute a race relations charity which lit the first ever British funeral pyre of modern times.

Northumbria Police have spent nearly two weeks investigating whether any laws were broken on July 12 when the president of the Anglo Asian Friendship Society organised the funeral pyre for Rajpal Mehat.

It took place following a request from his grieving mother and sister - but the Federation of British Cremation Authorities (FBCA) say laws were broken and want charges to be brought to prevent the "floodgates opening".

Meanwhile, the charity's president, Davender Ghai, and barrister Andrew Bogan, have also implored police bosses to decide whether they will be facing charges. They argue the law needs to be clarified and are prepared to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if necessary.

A delegation from the charity has now set off for India to scatter Mr Mehat's ashes in the River Ganges - another request from his grief-stricken mother Mohinder Kaur and sister Sonia.

They are travelling to Haridwar in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains to scatter his ashes in one of the holiest places in the River Ganges.

It was Mrs Kaur's wishes that her son should be given a traditional open-air funeral pyre and asked spiritual leader Mr Ghai to hold the service on private land near Stamfordham in rural Northumberland. The police initially stopped the funeral procession leaving the charity's base in Gosforth, but later said they wanted to respect "religious and cultural beliefs". The charity even claim they were given the blessing of Northumbria Chief Constable Mike Craik, but hours later a spokesman said they would be carrying out an investigation. The FBCA, which represents 92% of all crematoria in the UK, are adamant the pyre flouts both the 1930 Cremation Act and the Environmental Protection Act, which requires all crematoriums use filtration equipment.

A spokesman said: "It is important that this recent breach of the law does not set a precedent and that the relevant police authority takes appropriate action. Failure to deal with this matter will undoubtedly open the floodgates for others to risk acting outside of the legal provisions for cremation."

The Department for Constitutional Affairs and Newcastle City Council have already branded the ceremony illegal.

But yesterday a police spokeswoman said they were still investigating.

She said: "We have been liaising closely with the wider community since it happened and the force is currently taking advice about what action to take following the matter."


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer